Exploring the historical wonders of Halifax, Alaska
October 28, 2011
There is more to Canada than just hockey and snow — and one great example is Halifax, Nova Scotia. Rich in maritime history, the city’s harbor originally served as a main hub for the Royal Navy. It has since evolved into a popular tourist destination, incorporating Scottish, French and English cultures to create a baby “New York” in Eastern Canada. So get ready to explore one of the newer, but most fascinating ports I’ve visited!
The Mikmaq Indians originally settled Halifax. The French came and established an alliance with the Indians. After the British arrived and defeated the French, the Mikmaq signed
a peace treaty in 1749. Needless to say, the British took their land without payment. In 1759, the British founded the Naval Yard, which continues to be used to this day. However, the city’s shining moment came in 1912, following the Titanic disaster. Four ships left the harbor to retrieve bodies. They recovered 333 bodies, returning many of them to port. They could have recovered more had they not consumed all their embalming supplies (as a result, many more bodies were buried at sea). Devastation struck Halifax in 1917 when two war ships accidentally collided, igniting a massive explosion, killing 2,000 people and nearly destroying the city in the world’s largest man-made accidental explosion.
Since the explosion, Halifax has been built up nicely. If you’re a fan of maritime history, like me, check out the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, housing nearly 30,000 artifacts, including 70 boats and one ship, the CSS Arcadia. You can step aboard the now retired ship and sample life at sea. The museum also has exhibits dedicated to both the Titanic disaster and the Halifax explosion. There are some artifacts salvaged from the shipwreck most notably clothing, dishes, a piece of the Grand Staircase and a cabinet.
There are also tours to Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the final resting place of the recovered Titanic victims. In fact, director James Cameron paid a visit during the filming. Three rows of graves, which curve to resemble a ship’s bow, and detailed information of each victim are at the grave site. Some graves include the name (as some bodies were not identified), but all graves include the date of death (April 15, 1912) and a number, which represents the order pulled — for example, musician John Law Hume was victim 193 to be recovered. One of the names was “J. Dawson,” which gave Cameron the inspiration for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. Between two graves is a large space representing the hole created by the fatal iceberg. All the headstones were paid for by the White Star Line, who operated Titanic.
Another popular attraction is Peggy’s Cove, located 25 miles southwest of Halifax. Known for its lobster fishing, the community is home to scenic bluffs and has a famous lighthouse that is still operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. Lastly, make sure you tour Citadel Hill/Fort George. It was used for four different conflicts, including the American Revolution. It’s never been attacked, but had been placed on high alert during World War II. Within the walls, you can see animator’s re-enact 19 century life. There are even Scottish guards who keep watch in traditional attire. There is a changing of the guard, as well as a ceremonial gun shot at noon. You can browse the old weapons, medals and uniforms in the Army Museum. In the center of the Citadel is the famous Town Clock. Commissioned by the Duke of Kent in 1800, it has kept accurate time since 1803.
I hope you have enjoyed the first few destinations so far! I will be taking a bye week for the following issue, but when we return, we are going south of the border!
Michael Leonard is a Spanish major at UW-River Falls.